The Mutant Fish of Chernobyl?

I originally wrote this post for a now defunct “current affairs/oddities” blog I started in 2009 called ACKPFFT!

There have been reports of giant mutant fish in the river near Chernobyl. 

But is it all just sensationalism?

No doubt the water is still radioactive from accumulation in the riverbed. But mutant fish? Wouldn’t mutant fish have like two heads? Or extra fins or tails?

In the picture above, the fish are large, for sure. Giant even. But there can be a reasonable explanation for this: the river is not really fished, so the fish in the river keep growing.

One of the most amazing aspects of Pripiat, the town where the Chernobyl plant was located in Ukraine, and the area surrounding it (called the Exclusion Zone) is that it became a ghost town after the meltdown. And nature took over. Trees grow where they want, grasses, plants, bushes, all flourished after the evacuation.

Because most of the humans went away (there are still squatters in the area, scavengers and old people who didn’t want to leave), the animals took over the land.

All sorts of wildlife have returned. Wolves, deer, lynxes and eagle owls have all taken over the land. Birds even nest inside the cracked concrete sarcophagus shielding the shattered remains of the reactor. The area is so flush with wildlife and greenery that the Ukrainian government designated it a wildlife sanctuary in 2000.

Even though there have never been any reports of these animals showing signs of mutation because they are on the land, many children of Ukraine and Belarus have suffered serious and unfortunate ailments (mostly thyroid cancer) due to the exposure from the radiation caused by the meltdown. You can read more about that and see photographic evidence on many websites.

According to the UN, 7 million people were affected by the Chernobyl meltdown, half of which were children.

Now back to the water and the fish:

According to WikiPedia: “The Chernobyl nuclear power plant lies next to the Pripyat River which feeds into the Dnieper River reservoir system, one of the largest surface water systems in Europe. The radioactive contamination of aquatic systems therefore became a major issue in the immediate aftermath of the accident. In the most affected areas of Ukraine, levels of radioactivity (particularly radioiodine: I-131, radiocaesium: Cs-137 and radiostrontium: Sr-90) in drinking water caused concern during the weeks and months after the accident. After this initial period however, radioactivity in rivers and reservoirs was generally below guideline limits for safe drinking water.

“Bio-accumulation of radioactivity in fish resulted in concentrations (both in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union) that in many cases were significantly above guideline maximum levels for consumption. Guideline maximum levels for radiocaesium in fish vary from country to country but are approximately 1,000 Bq/kg in the European Union. In the Kiev Reservoir in Ukraine, activity concentrations in fish were several thousand Bq/kg during the years after the accident. In small “closed” lakes in Belarus and the Bryansk region of Russia, activity concentrations in a number of fish species varied from 0.1 to 60 kBq/kg during the period 1990–92. The contamination of fish caused concern in the short term (months) for parts of the UK and Germany and in the long term (years-decades) in the Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia as well as in parts of Scandinavia.”

So basically, they are saying, you probably don’t want to eat the fish.

And if you don’t eat the fish, and the fish exist unharvested, they can grow quite large. Giant even. But mutants? Only if a mutant is something that is left alone to become what it was naturally supposed to become. And that is rare in the world today, except where man is afraid to go.

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